REAL TIME WITH GOD
Acts 2:1-21, John 14:16-17, Romans 8:26-27
May 24, 2018… Pentecost Sunday
My wife is a Swiffer connoisseur. She will spend what seems like hours in WalMart poring over Swiffer cloths—deciding whether to purchase wet vs. dry, wide vs. narrow, lavender percale scented vs. lemon meringue scented.
One evening I’m hanging on for dear life to the shopping cart in absolute boredom while her intense perusing is going on. Time drags by so slowly!
Suddenly I see a pair of eyes peering around the corner of the end cap. It’s a small kid, and he’s eyeing my wife with great puzzlement. I hear him run back and whisper something to his mom. He drags her around the corner of the aisle. “I told you, Mom, it’s her! It’s Mrs. Burch, my teacher!”
Valerie looks up and greets Gabe. But poor Gabe is still looking befuddled. “Mrs. Burch, what are you doing here? Aren’t you supposed to be at school?”
And I thought to myself, “Yep, kid, school would be a whole lot better place to live than the Swiffer aisle in the bowels of Walmart!”
Gabe could only conceive of one role for my wife—that of a teacher. And yet, she fulfills so many more.
And, for many of us, that is the same mistake when it comes to our conception of the Holy Spirit.
This morning, on this Pentecost Sunday, I want us to take some time to explore a few of the many diverse roles of the Holy Spirit, realizing that none captures completely the identity of this third person of the Trinity.
Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who makes is possible for us to be with God in real time, bringing God’s presence near to us. The Holy Spirit makes faith present tense…
AS A CATALYST Acts 2:1-21
Following Jesus’ ascension to heaven, the disciples were gathered together in Jerusalem to celebrate the Jewish harvest festival known as Pentecost. Suddenly, there was a sound like a level F-5 tornado. Then, what looked like tongues of fire appeared over the heads of each disciple. And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in the distinct languages of the Mediterranean region.
Now, pilgrims from near and far had gathered in Jerusalem for that festival. When the buzz on the street about this unusual phenomenon reached them, they came running to see for themselves. They were amazed and befuddled as they heard the disciples speaking in their own particular native tongue.
Some of them asked, “What does this mean?” Others sneered, “Look at these winos!” Simon Peter was the spokesperson for the day. “We’re not drunk,” he said. “After all, it’s only 9:00 am. Rather, this is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Joel:
‘And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions and your old men shall dream dreams….and everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!’”
Then, Peter linked Old Testament prophecy with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When he finished, people began pleading, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be baptized!” They did, and they were. About 3,000 of them! But this was only the beginning. When the celebration subsided, they met together regularly for fellowship, prayer, worship and teaching. “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved!”
What a spine-tingling, electrifying day that must have been! This is how it all began. This is what the great events of the Old Testament and the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ were all leading up to. A new group of people came into being that first Pentecost. The Church of Jesus Christ was born. We would not be here as a congregation in this year of 2018 if that day had not occurred.
The Holy Spirit is the catalyst that brought the movement of the church into being, providing a place of grace for persons of all generations to encounter God.
Despite being an Anglo, my son Tyler is fairly fluent in Spanish. And he will tell you that his fluency did not come simply with 3 years of high school foreign language courses at Ft. Defiance, but rather through having many Hispanic friends. Tyler maintains you cannot truly know a language without knowing the people who speak it.
And so it is with God. That day of Pentecost, when all those folk heard the Good News of God preached in their own unique native tongue—that was and is a vivid, dramatic reminder that God knows every language on earth because he knows every person on earth. We are all precious in his sight.
He speaks our language, he knows what each of us has gone through and what we are going through right now– our obstacles, our fears, our challenges, our struggles..
God speaks to each of us in our own native language. Through his Spirit he seeks to make himself known to us daily in dozens of ways unique to our personalities and our lifestyles, if only we open our eyes and hearts to see.
God not only knows us and cares for us, he also, through the Holy Spirit, empowers us to serve a hurting world. He empowers us to truly be the church…to be a launching pad for service, not a saddle for comfort.
- Maurice Boyd once said, “Power is the ability to achieve purpose.” Yes, on the day of Pentecost, young men saw visions, old men dreamt dreams, and God bestowed upon them the power to fulfill those visions and dreams. And this same God empowers us to achieve such purposes today. His Spirit is the catalyst, the spark, that enables us to get up and get moving.
We do not have to wallow in stagnation. We can make new beginnings; we can reach toward the future with confidence and hope, energized by God’s Spirit to move forward, to live with purpose. As the disciples were empowered, so we are empowered to become more than we ever imagined.
The Holy Spirit of God is indeed the force that moves us forward in life, making faith present-tense as a Catalyst…
AS A COACH John 14:16-17
Jesus is sharing the Passover meal with his disciples in the Upper Room on the evening prior to his journey to Calvary. In these anxious, confusing moments, he says to them:
16 I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.
The unique word Jesus uses to describe the Holy Spirit here is parakletos. It is translated in our Bibles from the original Greek language as Helper. Advocate, Comforter, Companion, Friend. It literally means “One who stands beside” – encouraging you, prodding you, in determining the right course of action for your life—the way of truth.
If I were the linguist doing the translating here, I would use the term Coach. The Holy Spirit is the quintessential coach.
My next-door neighbor, John Woodrum, is a retired former athletic director at Turner Ashby HS and a very successful former basketball coach at that same school. When I’ve asked him about the key to being a good coach, he’s always told me it’s about getting to know your players well and what motivates them uniquely. For some, it’s getting in their face…for others, it’s offering quiet encouragement…but for all, it’s letting them know you are there for them.
God’s Spirit knows which buttons to push within each of us, if we are open to his Spirit. We are never alone. He offers us God in real time, standing beside us.
In Lloyd D. Douglas’s novel The Robe, Justus tells Marcellus, “Sometimes I feel aware of the Lord’s presence, as if he were close by.” He says he feels no temptation to cheat, lie or hurt others when he feels the Lord is standing beside him. Marcellus replies that he would be uncomfortable if he felt that he was being perpetually watched by an invisible presence.
Justus responds, “Not if that presence helped you defend yourself against yourself…It is a great comfort to have someone standing by—to keep you at your best.”
[Upper Room Disciplines 2015, p. 151]
We all need the Spirit’s role of a Coach in our lives, as well as Catalyst, making God real to us, keeping us at our best. And the Spirit also makes faith present-tense…
AS A CONVEYOR Romans 8:26-27
Listen to Paul’s description of the Holy Spirit:
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
Yes, the Holy Spirit takes our deepest, most inexpressible hurts, needs and cares and expresses them, communicates them, conveys them to God the Father.
In the 1998 movie The Apostle, Robert Duvall plays an intense Pentecostal preacher with a big heart named Sonny Dewey. Some of the best scenes in that movie are when Sonny is praying alone in the upstairs of his house or out in woods along a river–he rants, he raves, he goes toe-to-toe like Jacob, wrestling with God. Other times he’s doubled over in quiet anguish, pouring out tears. And that’s the kind of honesty, the kind of transparency, God wants from us.
In such honest moments we discover prayer is not about getting what we want, it’s about becoming what God wants us to be.
I confess there are so many times when I am with you as a pastor that I simply don’t have a clue as to what I ought to pray for. And the same goes for stuff I deal with in my personal life.
And that is why I find this passage from Romans to be a tremendous comfort. We can approach our Lord with great confidence and assurance, knowing that the Spirit is interceding clearly in the midst of our cloud of confusion. We can say, “Lord, your will be done…” and trust that God’s Spirit is conveying our most heartfelt struggles to the very heart of God. Yes, when we are weak, we can discover he remains strong!
Yes, it is the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to be with God in real time, bringing God’s presence near to us. The Holy Spirit makes faith present tense, serving as a Catalyst, a Coach and a Conveyor in our daily lives, connecting us with our Maker, our Redeemer, our Friend.
At the end of the day, though, the Holy Spirit is not some entity to be analyzed and scrutinized, but rather a gift to be received with openness and joy, like the dawning and sunset of each day.
Perhaps a good posture would be to simply turn off all the electronic hardware and social media and other mindless distractions, and to quietly sing these words with great fervency:
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.
And all the people of God said, “Amen!”